Rates will rise across the board, with international students to see up to 15 per cent increase

On Monday, May 29, the University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors (BOG) will meet to present and ratify the 2017-18 budget. This comes at a time where the university is predicting a deficit of $15 million, as discussed by president Jacques Frémont in a December 2016 memo.

The proposed budget will see cuts. In December of 2016, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the U of O had asked all faculties and services to determine how to cut their budgets by four to eight per cent. In September 2016, the university decided to cancel subscriptions to thousands of academic journals.

The university is also expected to raise tuition rates for the 12th consecutive year, with hikes projected to range from three to 15 per cent.

Robert Head, the former graduate students’ representative on the BOG, posted an online petition that included the proposed tuition rate increases as they were set March 14, 2017. Sources familiar with the budget have stated that some minor modifications have been made since then, which will be seen at the May 29 meeting, but the rates shared by Head are close to those in the current budget.

According to the petition, tuition for domestic, incoming undergraduate students would rise by three per cent, the maximum allowed by the province. This was confirmed as correct by sources familiar with the budget. Head’s document also states that domestic graduate students would see their tuition rise by five per cent.

As for international students, the numbers in Head’s document varied from a five per cent increase for education students, to a 15 per cent increase for engineering students. These numbers are not far-fetched, as the university also raised tuition for some international students by 15 per cent last year.

Current graduate student representative Mark Ingham is worried about what kind of environment these hikes will create.

“If we continue jacking up tuition, is that going to cause it to be harder for students to access education, and thus keep dropping our enrollment?” he asked.

Ingham noted that higher tuition would also make lower-income students more vulnerable to future cuts in government grants. “We’re setting up a kind of system that favours wealthy elites.”

Ingham and undergraduate student representatives Jamie Ghossein and Carlie Boisvert have said that they will vote against a budget that proposes tuition increases. At last year’s meeting, the student representatives, of whom Boisvert was one, were the only members of the board to vote against the budget.

Ghossein noted that he will also try to work with other board members this year by proposing amendments to the budget where possible.

Ghossein did note that high tuition rates are not unique to the U of O.

Statcan found that Ontario has the highest tuition rates, on average, of any province in Canada, when examining full-time undergraduate students. But even within Ontario, further tuition increases at U of O are becoming problematic, according to Ghossein.

“We’re less and less compelling to go to compared to other universities,” he said.

It’s important to note that almost all of the U of O’s income comes from either tuition fees or government grants, according to their last budget. Tuition fees and grants made up a combined 94 per cent of the university’s total revenues, each accounting for around 47 per cent of total revenues.

An online memo from the university’s administration committee discussing the upcoming budget looked at several factors which could cause the U of O’s financial situation to continue to deteriorate even further.

One issue is “uncertainty related to the Ontario government’s regulatory framework for provincial funding and tuition for Canadian students.” The memo goes on to note that there has been a two per cent reduction in government grants compared to 2013-14 levels.

Another issue the committee listed is that the number of 18 to 20 year-olds is dropping both in Ontario and the rest of Canada. This is likely to mean declining enrollment rates going forward, which would lead to fewer people paying tuition.

What these two points show is that income from tuition and grants, which made up 94 per cent of the university’s 2016-17 revenues, is in danger of falling in the coming years.

Another point the university listed is that “volatile financial markets” could impact its investment income, which accounted for 3.6 per cent of revenues last year, as well as the financial health of the pension plan.

Until Monday’s meeting, it won’t be completely clear exactly what cost-saving measures will be coming to the U of O next year.

The BOG meeting will take place in TBT 083 on Monday, May 29 at 5:30 p.m. and will be open to the public. As seating is limited, the meeting will be live-streamed into TBT C119.

You can contact your undergraduate student representative Jamie Ghossein at j.ghossein@uottawa.ca, and graduate representative Mark Ingham GradBoG@yahoo.com.